The Rise and Fall of American Growth:  ~ by Robert J. Gordon

I started reading this in Kindle format about a year ago and got 1/3 of the way through.  It’s a macro-economics book and very, very detailed in the telling of the progress of the US between 1870 and 1970 (not as absolute cut-off dates but very convenient).   It was fascinating but i had other books to read and put this one aside.

But my more recent read,  Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now (my review),  refers to Gordon and Pinker seemed to Gordon’s information quite a lot, so … I kind of skimmed the first third again of The Rise and Fall… nd kept going.   I think Pinker either misses the point of the Gordon book (the decline of American growth in the last 40+  years) or he’s got his own point really skewed by over-emphasizing the rosy view of the “miracle century” (Gordon’s phrase) and neglecting the very real problems we need ” Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress” right now (!) because it seems to be disappearing in skeptics, young people and the media. (See the review of my second reading of Enlightenment Now.)


The Rise and Fall of American Growth:  The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War
by Robert J. Gordon
2016 /  764 pages 
read by Michael Butler Murray – 30h 18m
rating –  10   /nonfiction- economics
(read and listened)

Anyway,  in general,  what Gordon has done is specifically outline and describe the progress in the standard of living witnessed by the United States between the Civil War and 1970 and how that progress has slowed a lot since then – especially since 1970.  –   And he really sees no way of that kind of growth ever returning – although he has some policy suggestions which *might* mitigate the problems.

There are a LOT of details – graphs and tables, facts and figures,  with the sources to match.  It’s great – and it’s wonderfully well organized.  (Whew!  What a job.)  And it’s nicely written managing to avoid the dryness of factual, quantitative statements of fact piled on one on top of another (although that’s close in some places).   The reader – Michael Butler Murray,  helps keep the pace up.

Following a Preface and Introduction to the whole book, there are three main Parts – Part 1 examines the remarkable progress which took place from 1870 to 1940.  Part 2 looks at the years 1940-2015 which includes a Golden Age as well as the  beginnings of  a slow-down.  And Part 3 analyses “The Sources of Faster and Slower Growth.”   The first two parts are considerably longer than Part 3.  The Parts are separated by “Entr’actes” explaining what happens in the transitions.  Each Part has an introductory paragraph or couple pages,  then each Chapter (9 in Part 1,  6 in Part 2 and 3 in Part 3) has its own little section of  introductory comments.   Also,  each Part and Chapter has it’s own Conclusion and the book ends with a Postscript.  (Whew!)

But yes,   you can dip into chapters which are more interesting to you,  or you can skim pretty effectively paying attention to introductions,  conclusions,  first sentences,  and intermissions.

“Part 1 –  1870-1940”:   My mom and I had a few good chuckles while remembering  canning and washing clothes on the farm – both of  my grandmothers were full-time farm wives and I very much remember my mom’s mother.  She lived in North Dakota wheat farm from her birth in 1893 to her death in 1986 – (she lived in town the last several years).   She saw a huge change in the face of America,  in her standard of living and the quality of her life.   This Part is basically how Americans lived after the Civil War with emphasis on the cities and northern farms.  Then there are chapters about how that life changed between 1870 or so and WWII.  “What They Ate and Wore,”  “The American Home,”  “Motors Overtake Horses and Rail,”  “From Telegraph to Talkies”  ” Illness and Early Death,” “Working Conditions”  and finally “Consumer Risks.”   –  This Part is about 300 pages long.

“Part 2 – 1940 to 2015:  The Golden Age and the Early Warnings of Slower Growth” is equally well organized,  well written and full of fully “footnoted” data.   Now we’ve got chapters on Food,  Clothing and Housing;  Cars and Planes; Entertainment and Communications; Computers and the Internet;  Medicine;  and finally,   Work, Youth and Retirement.”   This Part is a little less than 200 pages.

Finally in Part 3 we get to the analysis –  the causes of the great leap forward;  “Innovation” and what comes next;  along with “Inequality” and other “Headwind” issues.   This section has fewer than 100 pages.

And then, finally, a 10-page Postscript deals with an overall discussion of the problems ahead and policy suggestions.

Bill Gates on Gordon’s book:  (He likes the first 80%):

But it’s the last two chapters which have the real meat for the future –  Gates is a serious optimist and he takes a world view.

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